For this example, I will use alcohol as an example drug, since it's legal and increases dopamine.

Can drinking alcohol when performing unpleasant tasks, such as homework, cleaning, or laundry confuse the brain into associating those tasks with positive feelings, and thus increase the desire to perform those tasks, even in the absence of alcohol?

For example, I noticed some of the songs I first heard of while drinking sounded particularly good, but also sound great when not drinking.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Sure, give a rat cocaine and it'll keep pressing the button. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ Missatribution of arousal is also related to your question $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ This is a single piece of anecdotal experience, but LSD caused permanent changes in my brain that causes THC to induce psychosis. I haven't understood what changes LSD might have caused, but THC induces psychosis because it elevates D2 activity in the mesolimbic area. THC never induced psychosis up until a certain traumatic event caused by LSD. Maybe I've always been in the 1% of vulnerable people, but LSD definitely changed something permanently. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 20:23

2 Answers 2


Sure. Any introduction of a positive stimulus can reinforce any associated actions. However, alcohol is a depressant, and as such will negatively impact performance on activities such as homework, cleaning, or laundry, to name a few.

The Wikipedia page on operant conditioning explains it well:

Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability of a behavior that they follow, while positive punishment and negative punishment reduce the probability of behaviour that they follow...Positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior (response) is rewarding or the behavior is followed by another stimulus that is rewarding, increasing the frequency of that behavior. For example, if a rat in a Skinner box gets food when it presses a lever, its rate of pressing will go up. This procedure is usually called simply reinforcement.


Short answer
Aversive stimuli can drive drug seeking.

Central to your question is the dopamine circuit of the limbic system (Fig. 1), being crucial to the reward circuitry in the brain. One notorious way of powerfully activating the reward system is through intake of highly addictive dopaminergic drugs like cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, but also alcohol, albeit less potently. They are so addictive because they evoke strong euphoric, hedonic feelings and the notorious 'crash' when their effects wear off. The euphoric state is a powerful positive reinforcer, the crash a potent negative reinforcer.

Stressors negatively impact emotional state and can drive drug seeking by modulating the activity of the mesolimbic dopamine system. In rats this was tested by stressing them with the administration of the bitter compound quinine. Rats stressed in this way had a decreased dopamine tone in their limbic system. This was accompanied by an increased tendency to seek and use cocaine. This increased cocaine-seeking behavior resulted in increased dopamine levels in the limbic system, at least partially counteracting the stressful quinine shots (Twining et al., 2016).

Admittedly these findings do not directly answer your question

[When] performing unpleasant tasks [can drugs] confuse the brain into associating those tasks with positive feelings [?]

My answer shows that

Unpleasant tasks can lower dopamine in the brain and drive drug seeking behavior [and cause addiction] when drug intake is associated with [more] positive feelings

DA reward system
Fig. 1. Dopamine pathways in the reward center of the brain. source: Lieff J.

- Twining et al., Addiction (2007); 102(12): 1863–70

  • $\begingroup$ So, in the asker’s terms, housework, cleaning, and laundry can increase alcohol use? $\endgroup$
    – Zenon
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Zenon that would stretch this answer too far. I am citing an animal study and gustatory stressors in rats may not directly translate to homework. It should be viewed at in perspective. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ I was just asking as the asker is asking if drugs can increase motivation to perform unappealing tasks, while your answer seems to address whether performing unappealing tasks can increase motivation to use drugs. $\endgroup$
    – Zenon
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Zenon - Indeed, as mentioned in the last lines of my post: My answer shows that - Unpleasant tasks can lower dopamine in the brain and drive drug seeking behavior [and cause addiction] when drug intake is associated with [more] positive feelings $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 19:20

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